March 9, 2010
In online courses, feedback, collaboration, encouragement, and the contagiousness of others is not guaranteed, and often times not available at all. Online students should prepare themselves for the reality of learning, studying, and keeping apace with only individual resources at hand.
The Psychological Mindset
If you harbor the notion that online education isn't as serious or meaningful as the one you would find at a traditional brick-and-mortar college, or if you think that an online degree is easier to obtain than a traditional degree, you should think again. The cultural perception of online education--that it is second-class education--is misleading. The standards set by accredited and reputable online schools are high. If you doubt or underestimate the online learning experience and head into an online degree program anyway, you risk the chance of being ill-prepared, psychologically behind, and in no frame of mind to face the genuine demands of higher education in any form.
Scheduling Your Time
Online courses come with the selling point of flexibility: students can study at any time they choose. Yet, without an imposed structure, time can become fluid and abstract, less than you expect, more than you can manage. Time management is a great friend, maybe the best friend you make. Keep a calendar and create a regular schedule for yourself.
- Before school begins, sketch out a working schedule. Use that working schedule the first few weeks of school and make reality-based modifications until you arrive at strict study sessions. Schedule them as repeat appointments.
- Take into account when you are most alert and focused. In the extra hours, this may be very early or very late. Respect your natural energy and sleep patterns. Try to establish a regular study pattern: the same time every day or the same hours on certain days.
- Mind the fact that study sessions will consist of varying tasks--reading, preparing, reviewing, writing--and you may need to divide your general study sessions into smaller, specialized blocks of time.
- Sync all elements of your life. Keep a calendar that covers work, home, and school. Avoid free blocks of time. Schedule things that seem silly to schedule, like making breakfast or calling family. Being aware of all your tasks helps you organize and prioritize.
Consider study sessions sacred. Just because you are in charge doesn't mean you should exploit your authority. Don't indulge procrastination or rationalization. Study sessions should not be canceled or rescheduled or interrupted, except in case of emergency.
Carve Out Study Space
If you don't have separate office space in your home, carve out a corner to serve as study space. Make sure this space is anchored with your computer, internet connection, printer, and any other accessories you need: make your online time as efficient as possible. If you have a laptop and benefit from changing up your physical location, find spots that can sustain you for long intervals. Try and make your study spaces sacred, separate from other aspects of your life and free from distractions. Note: your computer itself is a source of distraction. Compartmentalize on the computer. Avoid personal and business matters during your study time. Allot separate times to check personal and work email, pay online bills, read the news, monitor your social networks, and whatever else you may do online.
Customize Your Study Techniques
Explore a variety of study techniques. Determine which ones work best for your course of study and best for the way you are naturally inclined to learn. You may be in a program with a tremendous amount of reading, in which case you want to train yourself to read in different ways. Or you may be in courses heavy on math and science that require a different tack for retention.
Further, studying is not isolated to the time you spend in your study space or to the intense interval in which you process the central ideas of your course work. Studying depends on how you process class lectures and discussions, how you prepare and contextualize, how you review and assess. Another major factor is the school library. Take time to master remotely accessing the library and familiarizing yourself with the ins-and-outs of library search engines and databases.
There are countless techniques students can employ--on note-taking, critical reading, paper writing, idea mapping, lab reporting, and so on. Tap print, online and college resources for tips and techniques.
Despite your best efforts, you will inevitably find yourself, at some point, overwhelmed with a college workload. Keep these tips in mind to manage stress and maintain a healthy balance in your life.
- Take A Deep Breath - In fact, take a few deep breaths. In fact, whenever you find yourself anxious or scattered or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. It is one of the most natural, and cheapest, ways to find some calm.
- One Thing At A Time - You can only do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking may seem like the only solution but your concentration will suffer. Do one thing and do it well before moving onto the next thing.
- Nobody Is Perfect - Keep perfectionism in check. Don't berate yourself over small typos or errors or mistakes. Don't hold yourself to unattainable standards. Work hard, do your best, and aim high but accept that there will be bumps and shortcomings along the way.
- Assess Your Schedule - Is there anything that can drop off your list of things to do? Is there anything you can delegate? Is there anything that can move around to make room for what is immediately important? Sometimes we dutifully adhere to schedules when they need not apply. Look to see if you can modify or tweak your schedule.
- Think Of The Future - Remind yourself of your goals. Stay motivated. Think ahead to the rewards of your education and remember that, despite the chaos or stress happening right this minute, you are on a fruitful and positive path forward.
- Talk About It - Talk, vent, rant. Sometimes just getting the stress out of your system and into the open helps. Talk to your family and friends. Commiserate with fellow students. Don't go at this alone and don't keep it all in.
- Clear Your Head - Dismiss the idea that you don't have time to relax. Even taking five or ten minutes to sit down and clear your head can help. Time to yourself and for yourself is time that will pay off when you return to task collected and focused.
- Take Care of Yourself - Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Make time for exercise a few times a week. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. If it isn't already said enough, smoking is bad for you. Get outside and take in some fresh air. Your health is key to sustaining the intensity and duration of higher education.
AcademicTips.org 1/10 (http://academictips.org/index.html)
Online Education for Dummies, Kevin Johnson & Susan Manning, EdD, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2010
"How Students Develop Online Study Skills" by Alan R. Roper, Educause Quarterly, Volume 20, Number 1 2007
"Time Management for Tips for Continuing Education Students" Online Education Database 1/10 (http://oedb.org/library/continuing-education-for-adults/time-management-tips-for-continuing-education-students)
Study Guides & Strategies 1/10 (http://www.studygs.net/index.htm)
"Stress Management" 1/10 (http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm)
"How to Set Up a Home Office 1/10 (" http://www.elearners.com/guide-to-online-education/how-to-set-up-a-home-office-for-online-learning.asp)